The one thing you have to acknowledge is that Clinton ran a bad campaign. And that statement is based on the only objective measure that counts – maximizing the number of people who came out to vote for her. Why is it important to acknowledge this? Because unless campaigns start looking at things differently, or at least less arrogantly, then the only victories that lie ahead are moral ones. Those kind of victories, along with $3, will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Sure, Hillary marginally won the popular vote, but that wasn’t the game and her campaign knew that. Stuffing the popular vote column with blowout wins on the west coast is immaterial, and the kind of moral victory that only the fans of losing teams seek. In sports parlance, you are what your record is. It doesn’t matter if the ref sucks, the other team cheats and that you run a fundamentally sound, disciplined offense. If your record is 2-6, you’re a 2-6 team.
Clinton’s campaign team’s strategy was to stand back and let Trump self-immolate. If you had to describe Clinton’s message that was intended to resonate to mobilize the electorate, how would you do that? If you had to name the couple of things that would convince those unsure if dragging their way to the voting booth was really worth their time and effort (and please, no tsk-tsk’s about obligations or civic duty), what would they be? Anybody got anything better than “I’m not Trump”, “I’m a safe pair of hands”, “I’m the less risky choice”? What was her signature policy initiative that you can be sure 85% of people if stopped in the street could tell you? What was her “I’m going to build a wall”? I am damned if I could tell you.
Was it free college education for all? No, that was dismissed as too expensive to pay for and not a promise that could be kept. But you can’t deny that it’s easy to remember, right? And this is politics, not an affidavit submission to a court of law.
Was it free child care for all? No, that would be very difficult to implement without wasting lots of money subsidizing child care for wealthy people who don’t need it. But it’s catchy, isn’t it?
Was it universal, single-payer free healthcare for all? No, they tried to get that through Congress in the 1990s, but it went nowhere and ended up with nothing. But it’s an awful lot easier to understand than exchanges, deductibles and subsidies, isn’t it?
Was it a basic income for all? Enough money to cover rent, food, utilities and transportation, so that additional income from work is only needed for higher standards of living, but you don’t have to worry about being homeless or hungry if you don’t or can’t work? Very expensive and difficult to implement, and not all economists believe it is viable. Saying that a tax on Hedge Fund profits would finance it may be difficult to stand behind. But it’s the kind of thing that people could get behind and think that you’re finally thinking about them, isn’t it?
Was it a program to put people to work to rebuild America’s infrastructure? Very difficult to explain how those projects would be prioritized and funded or how corruption could be avoided. But everybody in every town drives past something every day that they know needs resurfacing or repainting, right?
Was it a program to build renewable energy research and development facilities in places hardest hit by the death of the coal industry? Not very practical to convince the scientific community that West Virginia is where they’ll need to recruit from. But it shows how you could offer something that puts money back into the pockets of those abandoned communities, doesn’t it?
Some or all of these may well have been part of Clinton’s plans or platform, but the campaign made sure that if they were, they remained a closely guarded secret. The campaign did a bad job by not using the hundreds of millions they spent to cement visionary ideas clearly in the minds of the public. The campaign policy wonks who dismissed these types of ideas as impractical won the day and set the campaign’s strategy. “Better to stick with a long list of bunt-singles that stand up to scrutiny rather than swinging and missing at home runs”, seemed to be the campaign’s strategy. How did that work out?
The strategy failed, and failed miserably. There’s no point blaming the people who didn’t come out to vote, you have to look at why the campaign failed to motivate those people to come out to vote. And you have to learn those lessons and start applying them if you want to have any chance of capitalizing on the mid-term elections in two years’ time.
Look, we all know that the right approach to an interview for a job is to say whatever you think needs to be said to get your foot in the door. Just do what it takes to get the opportunity to show that you deserve the job and are good at it. It’s time for campaigns and the whole liberal left movement to paint a vision that will get people excited and see that there is an alternative that’s more compelling than “well, it’s not as bad as what the other guy would do”. And it won’t be the end of the world if you can’t deliver all of that vision at once when the practicalities of budgets and doing the job responsibly have to be respected. But you still should be able to make incremental progress towards that vision and keep people on board. To do that, you have to make sure they understand where the top of the mountain is and know what they’ll find once they keep fighting their way up the difficult lower slopes to the summit.
Progress begins by looking inwards and saying ‘what can I do differently?’, not by pointing fingers and blaming others for not doing what you think they should have done. Let’s grow the tent. Let’s overwhelm the bad with a tsunami of good rather than thinking the bad will somehow see the light. The only way to get bullies to stand down and walk away is when they see the numbers are against them. Let’s grow the numbers by understanding what we have to do to get those who have been left behind to feel like they are being listened to, and that what is on offer is something that resonates and makes sense to them.
I believe that the vast majority of people are good and just want what everybody wants – to provide for the safety and security of themselves and their families. And to be happy. Many are not happy because the economic and political system has abandoned them. They are right. They may not know how it has abandoned them or what is needed to make things better. But we can’t deny how they feel, as their feelings are valid. And we can’t make them get behind things that they don’t want to get behind. We won’t break down their fears unless we engage, explain and support.
I don’t know what the answers are, but I do believe you get the government you deserve. It’s time to get out and connect with people who don’t see the world in the same way, and understand why that is. Face to face. Time to figure out ways to break down fears, define shared goals and show how we are dependent on each other to achieve them.
In professional road cycling, there is an event called the ‘team time trial’. A team of nine riders sets out on a course, usually about 30 miles long, and tries to cover the course as quickly as possible. To do this effectively, they take short turns at the front fighting the air resistance as their teammates shelter in their wake. The interesting part at the end is that their time is set not by the first person who crosses the line, but the fifth. There’s no benefit in one or two really strong riders racing off into the distance leaving the others behind. They have to figure out the best way to use their strength to get the weaker members of the team over the line with them as best they can. Leaders concentrate on the weakest four members of the team and use their additional resources to help them. Let’s start figuring out ways to get that fifth person over the line, and have everybody busting a gut because we all know where the finish line lies, what we need to do to get everybody there in one piece together, and the euphoria we will feel when we look at each other at the end and say “we did it!”
Go get ’em, Sparky!